Jeff and Holly Noordsy

Dealers Specializing in the Sale of Early American Bottles, Glass and Period Decorative Arts

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THE EVOLUTION OF FORM AND DESIGN IN AMERICAN BOTTLES: 1739-1903

CHRONICLING THE TRANSFORMATION FROM ART TO INDUSTRY

As Presented by Jeff and Holly Noordsy at the Eastfield Village Glass Symposium in August 2005

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

 

With the changing times came changing imagery, and, although utilized to great effect in the previous period, Masonic symbolism is noticeably absent from flasks blown post-1830. Public distaste of the Masons and the resulting Anti-Masonic political parties arose in the wake of the so-called Morgan affair, where a disgruntled mason who had threatened to reveal the secrets of the fraternity was kidnapped and was never to be heard from again. Widespread reporting of the kidnapping engendered public displeasure and it was not until the 1850s or 1860s that Masonic symbolism was again utilized as a relief decoration on figured flasks.

With the popularity of Masonic symbolism on the wane, New England Glass Houses turned to imagery of the railroad as a means of arousing favorable public sentiment. The first of these flasks was probably blown at Coventry in 1832 to commemorate completion of the 25 mile stretch of rails between Lowell and Boston. Interestingly, this would be the only railroad flask produced in celebration of a particular stretch of rails. Other railroad flasks simply played on the public's fascination with this new form of transportation through bold imagery of a horse and cart and the slogan "Success To The Railroad." Though the public's adoration of the railway reached its peak in the 1840s, railroad flasks continued to be popular and they were produced at Glass Houses in Keene, NH, Mount Vernon and later Mount Pleasant, New York and also in Coventry, Connecticut until about 1850. Unlike the broad shouldered, narrow based corrugated rib flasks of the previous era, these New England and New York made flasks were instead generally coin-shaped with a single medial rib. This was to be the general form used by New England mold makers from roughly 1830 to 1850. Other flasks of the period utilizing this coin-shaped design include four varieties of Washington-Jackson flasks first blown in 1832 to commemorate Washington' 100th birthday and the ubiquitous Cornucopia and Urn flasks that symbolized prosperity and plenty.

As Masonic symbolism was supplanted by railroad imagery, so too did the once popular sunburst motif gradually give way to the so-called scroll flasks. First conceived in Pittsburgh and blown at Bakewell's Glass House as well as John Robinson's in the late 1820s or early 1830s, the popularity of this design is evidenced by the three decades or more that flasks of this type were blown in significant numbers. Produced also in Louisville, Kentucky and (probably) Lancaster, New York, these shapely flasks played upon the public's growing adoration of fancy within the decorative arts. Blown in a rainbow of brilliant colors, scroll flasks did not advance any social or political agenda and their popularity was based solely upon an appreciation of their aesthetic. The earliest of these flasks were blown in a mold and simply sheared from the blowpipe (oftentimes leaving a rough mouth edge) while later flasks were often finished with a tooled mouth as became the popular fashion in many glass houses during the 1850s and 1860s. And, unlike the flasks of the previous period that were blown almost entirely in pint and half-pint sizes, great numbers of quart-sized scrolls were produced, as would be the trend in other flasks of the era.

Also popular during this period were the marked "Corn For The World" flasks blown in Baltimore. First brought out in 1846 to celebrate repeal of the English Corn Laws, these flasks feature a boldly embossed ear of corn and the slogan "Corn For The World" on one side and a well detailed image of the Baltimore Monument on the other. A prominent landmark within the city, the monument was erected in homage to Washington and it was a well known national symbol of sovereignty. Produced primarily in the quart-size, these Corn For The World flasks, like many flasks of the period, were blown in a wide array of artificial colors. With the city's success based in no small part upon the ability to process corn and grain at its ports, the slogan and symbolism offered by the flask would naturally have been well-accepted by local consumers. That the flask had broader appeal, perhaps as a result of the embossed monument, is clear by the great numbers that survive today.

Known even today as the "Prince of Showmen," it could be argued that P.T. Barnum's greatest feat was the successful introduction of the songstress Jenny Lind to the American public. After agreeing to pay the Swedish Nightingale an unheard of salary, Barnum had a scant six months to engender public excitement in anticipation of Jenny Lind's arrival on our shores. With characteristic wit, guile and heavy reliance upon advertising and promotion, Barnum seduced the public into believing that Jenny Lind was the greatest attraction of the day and by the time she arrived in New York, public interest had been aroused to a fever pitch. With her images and tales of her generosity assaulting the public at every turn, it is no surprise that the Glass Industry seized upon her popularity and produced numerous flasks with her name and bust embossed in the glass. Blown at Glass Houses in Ohio, Virginia and New Jersey, marked Jenny Lind flasks were first brought out in or around 1850 and as with the other decorative arts bearing her image, these flasks remained popular through the 1860s, even though she gave her last concert in 1852. Of the Jenny Lind flasks, several were inspired by the scroll design and artfully modified to a general "lyre" form, an obvious symbol of her musical acumen. Most notable however, were the so-called "calabash" type flasks of which ten different varieties were produced. Roughly one quart in size, these calabash flasks were blown in a two-piece mold with long necks and applied mouths. Distinctly different in form from other figured flasks of the period (although echoing the form of the earlier chestnut flasks) calabash types enjoyed a degree of popularity for several decades, though they never achieved the success of the more traditionally formed flasks of the time.


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